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Shan was once an Inspector stationed in Beijing, but he lost his position, his family and his freedom when he ran afoul of a powerful figure high in the Chinese government. Shan has since been living among outlawed Buddhist monks, without status, official identity, or the freedom to return to his former home in Beijing. While settling into a menial job as an inspector of irrigation and sewer ditches in a remote Tibetan township, he encounters a grotesque crime scene: the bodies of two unidentified men and a Tibetan nun are found on the grounds of an old Buddhist convent.
Shan quickly realizes that the murders pose a riddle the Chinese police seem to be covering up. When the evidence leads to a new internment camp for Tibetan dissidents arrested in Beijing's latest pacification campaign, Shan recognizes the dangerous landscape he has entered. To find justice for the victims and to protect a terrified American woman who witnessed the murders, Shan must navigate through the treacherous worlds of the internment camp, the local criminal gang, and the government's rabid pacification teams, while coping with growing doubts about his own identity and role in Tibet.
Set against the astonishing landscape of this beleaguered Himalayan country and the epic struggle of the Tibetan people, Shan's difficult and twisted journey to the truth becomes a passage through the many layers of tragedy inflicted by China on Tibet and its people.